Porn industry threatens to leave Los Angeles

Jessica Drake.

The porn industry may be looking for a new home. Yes, the San Fernando Valley is identified with the adult film industry almost as much as cheesy '70s music. But it may relocate because of what industry leaders view as costly new regulations.

Last week, Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure requiring condoms be used in all adult films. Porn producers have resisted using condoms in movies because they say it would ruin the fantasy for customers. So, it may be cheaper to leave than to comply.

Porn star Jessica Drake says a move would cause economic pain for everyone involved.

“I think that this could have a negative financial impact on the adult industry, but I really do think that it can take money out of Los Angeles county and out of California as well,” says Drake.

Drake is a writer-director-performer under contract with Wicked Pictures. Wicked is an unusual adult movie studio because it already requires all its actors to wear condoms. But even though she’s pro-condom, Drake doesn’t support the new regulations.

“We’re already using condoms in our movies, and we would now have to absorb the costs of a health permit, which the costs has been estimated to be in the thousands for this,” says Drake. “And we’re paying for someone to come out and police us.”

Porn-studio owners say they’ll leave town before they’d allow prophylactics to get in the way of sales. Diane Duke is CEO of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association for the porn industry. She says the debate about health risks in the porn industry is out of touch with reality, because adult performers get tested more often than any other population in the country. Normally, they’re tested every 14 or 28 days.

“The government can’t compel an industry to create a product for which there is no demand. And that’s what would be happening here in Los Angeles, and it just doesn’t make sense,” says Duke.

The industry is suing to block the condom rules in court. If they lose, Duke says adult film companies will move production elsewhere. They already shoot lots of movies in Florida, Arizona and Nevada. And Duke says porn king Larry Flynt is considering moving his film production to Hawaii or even Mexico.

“We’ve had people from other states and other areas say, ‘we would like to have you here.’ People want our business. We’re great neighbors. We pay taxes. We pay living wages,” says Duke.

But locally, the porn industry isn’t getting much love from its neighbors. Officials in Pasadena and Long Beach both said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ The spokesman for the city of Vernon told me that the adult film industry probably “wouldn’t be a good fit” because his city is “too industrial.” That’s right: Vernon says it’s too dirty for porn.

One voice running counter to this not-in-my-backyard mentality comes from the industry’s backyard. Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, which represents business in the San Fernando Valley.

“This is an industry that creates over ten-thousand direct and indirect jobs in a given year. It’s an industry that pumps over a billion dollars into our economy,” says Waldman.

Plus, the San Fernando Valley porn industry supplies its more glamorous neighbor with a steady supply of labor.

“We’ve been able to support main-stream entertainment and mainstream Hollywood. When they have lulls, we’re able to help out and hire some of those folks. A lot of people work in both industries,” says Diane Duke with porn’s trade association.

Gofers, gaffers and grips from mainstream movies can moonlight in porn. Producers won’t find as many make-up artists in, for example, Tampa. That’s one of the reasons some observers say the industry isn’t very likely to move. Talk to the contrary, they suggest, is just a tease.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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